Eddie Howe's subtle Newcastle United tactical change – and what it means for Allan Saint-Maximin

Rightly, the headlines at the Brentford Community Stadium belonged to Joelinton.

The forward-turned-midfielder, outstanding during Newcastle United’s seven-game Premier League unbeaten run, scored his first goal of the season in Saturday’s 2-0 win over Brentford. The result moved the club up to 14th place.

However, Ryan Fraser was as influential as Joelinton on the pitch against the hosts, who had Josh Dasilva sent off early in the game.

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Fraser – whose first season at the club was punctuated by a number of injuries – has come to the fore under head coach Eddie Howe, who also managed him at Bournemouth.

This time, however, Fraser was fielded on the left by Howe, who was again without Allan Saint-Maximin, who remains sidelined with a calf injury.

Newcastle dominated the left-hand side following Dasilva’s dismissal for a lunge at Matt Targett, playing at left-back behind Fraser.

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They exploited Brentford’s narrow 4-3-2 formation, and delivered a series of balls into the box from the wide areas.

“The sending off changes the task in front of us, but it doesn’t necessarily make the task any easier,” said Howe. “They were always going to drop deep and defend, defend with numbers, and we had to be very creative.

Ryan Fraser against Brentford.Ryan Fraser against Brentford.
Ryan Fraser against Brentford.

“I thought we were very good down the sides of the pitch with Ryan Fraser, Matt Targett, and Jacob Murphy and Emil Krafth (on the right).

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“Put a number of balls in the box, and, eventually, the weight of those paid dividends for us.”

Howe – who again started Jacob Murphy in the absence of Saint-Maximin – had switched Fraser to the left expecting Brentford to again field a five-man defence, and he was surprised when Thomas Frank named a back four.

The ploy, however, worked, and the 28-year-old winger arguably had his best game yet this season.

Allan Saint-Maximin is sidelined with a calf injury.Allan Saint-Maximin is sidelined with a calf injury.
Allan Saint-Maximin is sidelined with a calf injury.
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Fraser, signed as a free agent in the summer of 2020 following the expiry of his Bournemouth contract, created two good chances for January signing Chris Wood before delivering the 33rd-minute ball which was headed past David Raya by Joelinton.

Joe Willock, set up by Fabian Schar, made it 2-0 with a goal from a breakaway.

“We switched Ryan and Murph (Jacob Murphy) over for tactical reasons, really, just looking at our opposition,” said Howe, who has been reluctant to make too many changes to his starting XI during the club’s unbeaten run.

“I haven’t wanted to change too much since our run has started.

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"When you find a good chemistry in the team, I’m reluctant to break it, but, I think, you have to tweak and change for your opponent. We’ve done that in many different ways throughout this run.

“We felt they would play with five at the back, because that’s been their consistent system.

"They changed, which surprised us, but it was because of that.”

The ploy, however, still worked, and Saint-Maximin, should he be fit for Saturday’s home game against 10th-placed Brighton and Hove Albion, might not necessarily walk straight back into the team given Howe’s reluctance to change a winning team.

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